While nutrition bars may have reached an all-time high in popularity, many people who consume them don’t bother to read the nutritional information to fully understand what they’re eating.
While some bars can be good alternatives to traditional meals, many aren’t. It’s important to know what you’re eating, so here are some guidelines to help you choose the best bar for you.
Read the Label
While the name can lead you to believe the bar inside provides a healthy, low-fat snack packed with energy and nutrients, when you start reading the nutritional content, it soon becomes apparent that not all nutrition bars deliver everything they promise.
Some bars are billed as meal replacements, others are designed to boost energy, some are packed with concentrated amounts of fiber or protein and others are specifically created for pre- or post-workout consumption.
The popularity of nutrition bars has led some companies to produce low-cost alternatives that aren’t much more than bars of muesli glazed with sugar. Such bars provide little actual nutrition, so reading nutritional content information is more than important–it’s absolutely necessary.
The calorie count of nutrition bars can vary greatly.
The average bar is made for people using them fordoesn’t necessarily mean weight loss. While some people are trying to lose weight by cutting down body fat, others are after more calories and protein in an effort to gain weight, specifically muscle weight.
If weight loss is a part of your fitness goals, it’s important to know how many calories you’re consuming, and that includes the calories in your nutrition bar. And don’t confuse low-fat with low calorie. Many “low-fat” bars pack 200+ calories; that can be more than 10% of the recommended daily caloric intake for the average person.
On the other end of the spectrum are those individuals trying to gain weight who are using bars to add protein and calories in an attempt to boost muscle gain. High quality protein bars can offer more calories along with a balance of protein and carbs to help you power through your workout and assist in muscle synthesis, while low-quality protein bars provide not much more than a bad ratio of calories to proteins and proteins to carbs, along with a heaping dose of sugar.
Watch the Carbs
Along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are an essential macro-nutrient our bodies use mainly for the production of glucose, which our muscles use for energy. Nutrition bars vary greatly in carbohydrate amounts. Some might have 20-30 grams per bar, while others cangrams or even more. Like any macro-nutrient, more carbohydrates means more calories.
Simple carbs (sugar) can cause a spike in blood sugar and are best avoided. Complex carbs take longer to digest and, as a result, can increase blood sugar levels without causing a spike, thus providing longer lasting energy.
Regardless, one of the first things someone looking to manage his or her weight should look out for is carbs.
High-carbohydrate bars are best consumed pre-workout, as the increase in blood sugar and resulting insulin release can kick-start muscle activity and recovery by pushing nutrients into the cells, providing energy for a more effective workout and also helping recovery.
With so many options, choosing the right bar can be a challenge.
The first step is to establish your fitness goals so you can choose the bar or bars that best support them. There are many types of bars available–pre-workout energy boost, meal-replacement, high protein, high fiber….
So let’s look at at some of the best of breed bars available:
Meal Replacement Bars
A big bar best consumed as a meal-replacement or to add extra calories and protein.
This protein bar is a great choice for anyone who doesn’t have enough time to cook up a meal. It’s especially useful as a breakfast replacement.
Using oats as the main ingredient, this 400 calorie protein bar contains 30 grams of protein and 47 grams of carbohydrates per serving, with 13 grams of fat. While the carbohydrate content might not work for anyone pursuing a low-carb diet, as a portion of calories this bar is very well balanced between the three macro nutrients.
It also offers a considerable amount of fiber (5 grams). Between that and it’s caloric content, it can be quite filling. Despite having only 6 grams of sugar per serving, it still offers a great taste.
The GNC Pro Performance Oatmeal Protein Bar Deluxe is a perfect bar for or anyone looking to add some extra calories and protein, or to use as a meal replacement.
If fiber content is important to you, the MyProtein Oats and Whey meal replacement bars provide a good amount, with 7.3 grams of fiber per bar–that’s half of the Recommended Daily Allowance of fiber for the average adult.
Fiber helps regulate insulin release, maintain normal glucose levels, and has been show to reduce cholesterol.
One 88 gram bar contains roughly 324 calories, and the unique oat blend ingredients provide 38 grams of carbs with only 3.4 grams of sugars.
Add in up to 23 grams of protein and 9.7 grams of fat and you’ve got a well-balanced bar that can help you hit your daily macro-nutrient goals and help build muscle mass.
Low Calorie Bars
My Bar Zero is a unique protein bar that’s one of the best choices for individuals seeking an energy-boosting yet low-carb snack.
One 65 gram bar My Bar Zero clocks in at only 198 calories and a minute 2.6 grams of carbohydrates, along with 6.2 grams of fat and incredible 25 grams of fiber, so it will definitely satisfy your hunger despite its small serving size.
Add in the 20 grams of protein and you’ve got a perfect low-carb alternative for the carb conscious.
It’s one of the few bars on the market to offer such a level of protein with a corresponding lack of carbs.
The My Bar Zero if the perfect choice for anyone after a low-carb snack that will boost protein intake.
One of the best bars on the market for those looking to add extra protein without the too many extra carbs or extraneous calories.
One 50g PhD Diet Whey Bar contains 25 grams of protein and 14 grams of carbohydrates, so it’s a good choice for those looking to lose weight, but trying to support a resistance training program.
The protein within these bars is derived from a high quality protein blend which contains over 4 individual sources.
This bar also contains chromium and phosphorous, the former proven to help regulate and maintain blood glucose levels the latter promoting bone health.
Each PhD Diet Whey Bar contains 250mg of acetyl l-carnitine, a supplement that promotes metabolic function and 500mg of flaxseed powder–a popular ‘superfood’ notable for being a high source of fiber and omega-3.
And all this comes at the cost of only 0.7 grams of sugar.
A hybrid bar, and less expensive that it’s high protein relatives, the Kind Bar is a great choice to add some quick and easy nutrition during the day.
Chances are you’ve tried a Kind Bar at some point in your life, as they are pretty common and come in over 20 different flavors.
Containing a myriad of different nuts and dried fruits as their main ingredients, Kind Bars offer a more cost-effective nutrition boost (at roughly $2 per bar) than most protein bars. At an average of 180 calories per bar, they offer a good nutritional return for their caloric content.
All of their 20+ flavors average 6 grams of sugar, 15 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, and 6 grams of protein while adding no more than 200 calories.
The low sugar and relatively low carb content makes the Kind Bar a calorie efficient snack, but it lacks the protein punch of it’s bigger (and more expensive) relatives.
The Clif Bar is probably one of the most popular choices for active people seeking an energy boost. Hikers, cyclists, swimmers or just about anyone preparing for lengthy, low intensity physical activity has undoubtedly at some time consumed a Clif Bar.
As one of the original energy bars, Clif Bars combine organic ingredients such as rolled oats, nuts and dried fruit, with one bar containing 23 vitamins and minerals.
With a carbohydrate content of 40 – 45 grams per bar, Clif Bars provide long lasting energy for low-intensity physical activity. You can see by the carb count however, that these bars aren’t the preferred choice of the carb conscious!
One Clif Bar contains 240 calories, a whopping 23 grams of sugar and 10 grams of protein, 90% of the RDA for Vitamin C, and 22 other vitamins and minerals.
The above is just a minuscule sample of the hundreds of nutrition bar brands/ With such expansive offerings, you’re sure to find the one that fits your personal fitness and diet goals, whether it’s energy, a quick low-calorie meal, extra fiber, or extra protein.
Understanding the nutritional content and knowing what ingredients lurk behind those nutrients is fundamental for helping you differentiate between the myriad of nutrition bars available. The bars we mentioned above provide a “best of breed” selection to get you thinking about what’s in the bar you’re getting ready to eat.
It’s a great starting point for finding that perfect bar (or bars) for you.